Online right fumes after YouTube ad crackdown

YouTube is in hot water with conservative users and creators, with the Google-owned video giant accused of discriminating against the right as YouTube takes ads off content that it says violates the terms of service.

Last month, YouTube quietly made moves to remove advertisements on certain types of content that it says is not consistent with its terms of service. YouTube doesn’t serve ads on demonetized videos, meaning big hits to the bottom line for conservative YouTube personalities.

YouTube says that its efforts are aimed at cracking down on hate speech, but conservative and right-wing video creators say they’re frustrated by the changes. 

The video streaming service began the initiative after several major companies like Coca-Cola, Amazon and Microsoft pulled their ads from YouTube in the spring after the Times of London noticed that advertisements for their brands appeared alongside videos of hateful, offensive or even pro-terrorist content. 

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YouTube creators who had advertisements removed from their content would also no longer receive payment from YouTube on those videos.

YouTube has occasionally demonetized and flagged certain types of content in the past, most notably when it cut mega-popular video game personality Pewdiepie from making money on the platform for using racial slurs. But August marked an uptick in YouTube’s ad crackdown across the platform.

Luke Rudkowski, a YouTube video creator who has made his name chronicling various far-right figures, released a video on Aug. 10 claiming that hundreds of his videos had been demonetized at the beginning of the month, effectively killing his ability to make money on the platform.

“I haven’t even been cursing in any of my videos,” Rudkowski said, acknowledging that many of his videos are controversial. “And then YouTube invites people for this platform, which I joined and put my entire life into. And then YouTube just says, ‘You know? We’re going to change our terms and services.’”

YouTube says that while it respects principles of free speech, its policies are aimed at making sure advertisers’ needs are met. 

“There’s a difference between the free expression that lives on YouTube and the content that brands have told us they want to advertise against,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “Part of giving advertisers choice means giving them the choice to not run ads on sensitive content.”

The company said that creators who feel that their content was incorrectly classified can file an appeal with Youtube.  

But “Diamond and Silk,” two prominent YouTube creators who were hit hard by the site’s demonetization policies, believe they were targeted for their support for President Trump. 

“How was it OK to monetize our videos for the past two years and now those same videos are no longer eligible for monetization?” the two women, who have also appeared regularly on Fox News, asked.

YouTube’s ad changes have reached the wider conservative media, adding fuel to the right’s belief that tech giants are discriminating against conservative views.

“YOUTUBE DECLARES WAR ON POLITICALLY INCORRECT OPINIONS,” reads one Infowars headline.

“I think it would be insane to suggest there’s not an active effort to censor conservative and independent views,” Lauren Southern, a conservative internet personality, told the Daily Caller

“There’s no merit hiring, there’s no support of free speech and there certainly is not an equal representation of political views at these companies,” Southern said, criticizing Silicon Valley. 

Southern, who has recently focused on criticizing migration to Europe and even tried to block a rescue boat in one high-profile incident, boasts a significant presence on YouTube. Many of her videos appear to be demonetized. 

But the crackdown hasn’t just been limited to conservative and right-wing voices. Non-political content is also being demonetized, creating another political headache for YouTube as it tries to convince advertisers that its platform is safe for their brands.

Last year, popular YouTube creator Philip DeFranco claimed that one his videos had been demonetized. YouTube said that DeFranco’s video had been demonetized because he swore and used graphic video footage, according to DeFranco. 

“I love YouTube. It’s well within their damn rights to do this. It is their website. It is also incredibly f—ing concerning,” DeFranco said in a video. “By taking away monetization, it is a form of censorship.”

Others have noticed that some LGBT content is being demonetized, as well. The Outline pointed out a video by YouTube video creator Arielle Jane from August that had been demonetized for no clear reason.

Earlier in the year, YouTube sparked controversy among some of its creators when its filtering tools flagged a video of two women exchanging wedding vows. The company quickly announced that it would make changes to the tools, which it said were “incorrectly filtering videos.”

YouTube’s ad crackdown, apparently meant to assuage advertisers who were spooked by earlier controversies, reflects an ongoing battle to make companies comfortable alongside user-generated content.   

“Ten years ago advertisers wouldn’t run their ads alongside user generated content like on message boards,” says Jason Kint, CEO of the media trade association Digital Content Next. 

YouTube is now caught in a bind as it struggles to crackdown on harmful content, withoutalienating popular video creators and their viewers. 

“Advertisers are reconsidering whether they want to be anywhere near user-generated content, let alone the controversial pollution which litters Facebook and YouTube,” Kint said. “The trick is making sure they don’t also cut off the productive creators that are the innovators and artists of our media.”

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Tillerson: U.S. in direct communication with North Korea

Rex Tillerson and Wang Yi are pictured.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, walks by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Sept. 30, 2017. | Andy Wong/Pool/AP Photo

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Saturday the U.S. is in direct communication with North Korea and tensions between the two countries need to cool.

“The whole situation is a bit overheated right now,” said Tillerson, according to media reports. “If North Korea would stop firing its missiles, that would calm things down a lot.”

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Tillerson, the nation’s top diplomat, made those comments during a day of meetings in China with top officials and the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The secretary’s statement, according to a New York Times report, marks the first time the Trump administration has acknowledged direct contact with the North Korean government over its continued missile and nuclear tests. It is unclear how open Pyongyang is to such talks.

“We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” he added. “We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang.”

President Donald Trump has continued to ratchet up tensions with North Korea over the country’s refusal to back down from nuclear and missile testing. Trump has dubbed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” and, during his maiden speech at the United Nations General Assembly, threatened to annihilate the country if it threatens U.S. territories.

North Korea’s foreign minister later said the rhetoric amounted to a declaration of war. The White House has strongly denied such claims.

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White House: San Juan mayor ‘might be too busy doing TV’ to meet with Trump

The White House on Saturday said a Puerto Rican mayor dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria “might be too busy doing TV” to meet with President Trump during his visit to the island on Tuesday.

The response follows sharp criticism by Trump of the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz. Cruz has maintained in media appearances that her city, the capital and largest city in Puerto Rico, desperately needs more assistance than the Trump administration has provided in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Trump lashed out at Cruz on Saturday in a series of tweets

“The mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” Trump tweeted. “Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”

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Asked if Trump would meet with Cruz when he visits Puerto Rico on Tuesday, a White House official said they were “not sure.”

“She has been invited to FEMA command center several times to see operations and be part of efforts but so far has refused to come, maybe too busy doing TV?” the White House official told ABC News.

Trump’s administration is defending their response to what some officials in Puerto Rico are calling an imminent humanitarian disaster. The majority of Puerto Rico, with a population of about 3.4 million, remains without electricity or drinking water on the island in Maria’s wake. The sense of urgency over the island’s plight is growing this weekend as officials appear on news media and celebrities pick up the cause.

Following Trump’s early morning series of tweets attacking Cruz for “poor leadership,” Trump came under fire from Democrats and celebrities for what one Democratic senator, Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Dem: Graham-Cassidy is an ‘intellectual and moral garbage truck fire’ Dems call for action against Cassidy-Graham ObamaCare repeal Murphy fires back at Trump on filibuster MORE (Conn.), called sitting “in his opulent golf resort attacking hurricane first responders.”

“You’re going straight to hell, @realDonaldTrump. No long lines for you. Someone will say, ‘Right this way, sir.’ They’ll clear a path,” tweeted “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent.

The singer Lady Gaga brought new eyes to the feud when she accused Trump of failing to help Puerto Rico because it doesn’t have the electoral votes he needs to get re-elected.

Trump’s social media director Dan Scavino, Jr., though, continued to isolate Cruz as a lone critic by calling her “an opportunistic politician” on Saturday.

Puerto Rico does not follow the U.S. political parties but Cruz is a member of the island’s Popular Democratic Party.

Following Trump’s tweets about her, Cruz responded that her No. 1 goal is “saving lives.”

“Actually, I was asking for help. I wasn’t saying anything nasty about the president,” Cruz said on MSNBC following the tweets. “It’s not about politics, it’s not about petty comments, it’s about moving forward, putting boots on the ground and saving lives.”

Cruz has made numerous media appearances this week, criticizing the Trump administration’s response and asking for additional aid.

“I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency,” she said at a press conference Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent airplanes and ships with food, water and generators and 10,000 federal employees have been deployed to help in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands, which were also hit.

The three-star general recently put in charge of U.S. military relief operations in Puerto Rico said Friday that there are as many as 4,600 troops on the ground in Puerto Rico — including members of the National Guard and Reserves — and the Pentagon would be sending more troops and vehicles to the island, where residents could be without power for six months.

Trump also temporarily lifted the Jones Act, which requires American-made and -operated vessels to transport cargo between U.S. ports such as Puerto Rico, in order to bolster relief by ship to the island.

Trump on Friday maintained that his administration is doing an “incredible job” with relief efforts.

“We have done an incredible job, considering there’s absolutely nothing to work with,” Trump told reporters at the White House. 

Trump is visiting Puerto Rico next week, and tweeted on Saturday that he also hopes to visit the Virgin Islands, which were also hit by the storm.

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Trump social media director blasts San Juan mayor: She’s ‘an opportunistic politician’

President Trump’s social media director Dan Scavino, Jr., attacked San Juan, Puerto Rico, mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz in a tweet Saturday, calling her “an opportunistic politician.”

“.@realDonaldTrump hater, the Mayor of San Juan – is the perfect example of an opportunistic politician,” Scavino tweeted. “Go ask PR Gov about responsiveness.”

Scavino also included a screenshot of a tweet sent by Cruz in November 2016 in which she appeared to throw her support behind then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain MORE.

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Scavino’s tweet followed a series of early-morning tweets from Trump in which he attacked “poor leadership” from Cruz and other Puerto Rican officials following the devastation left by Hurricane Maria.

Trump also accused Puerto Rican workers of not helping in the relief efforts.

Earlier this week, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Russello praised the Trump administration’s response to the crisis, saying top officials had been in consistent contact with him.

But Cruz, who is a member of the island’s Popular Democratic Party, has been more critical of the administration’s response.

On Friday she blasted acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke for calling the government’s response to the crisis a “good news story,” and held an emotional press conference in which she pleaded for more federal aid.

Cruz responded to Trump’s attacks Saturday, saying she is focused on “saving lives.”

“I was asking for help. I wasn’t saying anything nasty about the president,” Cruz said on MSNBC following Trump’s tweets. “It’s not about politics, it’s not about petty comments, it’s about moving forward, putting boots on the ground and saving lives.”

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Week 19: Internet Billionaires Prepare for Their Public Shaming

Internet giants Google, Facebook, and Twitter—worth more than a trillion dollars combined—have now joined the ever-expanding cast of the Trump Tower scandal. Portrayed in the press as the witless enablers to the Russian meddlers of Campaign 2016, the tech firms have been invited to take their public beatings before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The House Intelligence Committee plans similar humiliations.

On the day Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gives his congressional testimony, we can expect him to play the naïf, a role that fits the contour of his personality as tightly as his usual T-shirt. Visualize, if you can, Zuckerberg going wide-eyed and then gulping out this opening statement:

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Senator Burr, Ranking Member Warner, Members of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today to discuss the 3,000-plus politically divisive ads we sold to Russian customers for $150,000. I’d love to gossip about all the wild noises sounding from the upstairs cathouse at Facebook, but heck, I just play the piano in the parlor.

I don’t know nothing was the tune Zuckerberg sang back in November when first confronted with the argument that Facebook had helped Trump win. “The idea that fake news on Facebook…influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” he said. This week, sculling water like an Olympic oarsman, Zuck rowed that comment back. “Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it,” he wrote in a post. He now concedes that during the campaign Russian viral disinformation chewed its way though Facebook like conquering termites. Zuck has bowed to both Congress and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, handing over copies of the ads the Russians bought as well as providing the companion billing information. Do you supposed they used a Kremlin-issued affinity card from Visa?

The Washington Post reports that as early as June 2016, Zuckerberg was warned by President Barack Obama about the peril fake news and political disinformation presented on his platform. In his row-back post this week, the tiny billionaire attempted to fend off President Donald Trump’s tweet that accused Facebook of being “anti-Trump” and of colluding against him with other media outlets. Sounding like a convicted felon begging for leniency from the judge, he begged for the company to be judged in the context of its “broader impact.” Facebook helped get out the vote, he whined, ran millions of legitimate political ads, gave candidates a chance to communicate directly with voters via their Facebook page, and so on.

If Zuckerberg grovels like this when he runs the Capitol Hill gauntlet, they’ll slice him into strips and barbeque him. What sort of ads did Russians place on Facebook? Ads referencing Black Lives Matter and targeting Ferguson and Baltimore; ads impersonating an American Muslim organization; and ads backing Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump, for starters. Conspicuously there were none for Hillary Clinton. The Congressional Black Caucus, calling Facebook a “Trojan horse through which America’s vulnerabilities are exploited,” demanded to know more about the Russian Facebook pages that promoted “incendiary anti-immigrant rallies” and planted ads “designed to inflame and exploit racial, political and economic rifts in the U.S.”

The operatives behind the Facebook ads also ran 201 Twitter accounts, reports the Washington Post, which the company has since canceled. Last year, Twitter collected $274,100 for ads from RT, the Russia-controlled broadcaster, and Russian Twitter-bots amplified the Putin message throughout the Web. Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., gave Twitter a full-rotisserie scalding this week after its director of public policy and philanthropy Carlos Monje gave a what he thought was a limp briefing behind closed-doors before the Senate and House intelligence committees. Twitter’s response to the Russian intrusion was “inadequate,” Warner said. “I don’t think we have more than scratched the surface of our understanding of how the Russians may have used that platform,” Representative Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., said. Google insisted in a statement at the beginning of the month that it had “seen no evidence” of Russian propaganda ads on its platforms. That’s not counting RT, though, which is the most popular news channel on Google’s YouTube. Google promises to nose deeper for the Russian scent, and will likely sniff out more Russian mischief.

What to make of all of this congressional dudgeon? Members of Congress love to bang on the billionaire class to please the viewers in the cheap seats who live to see blame affixed. Your standard-issue congressional investigation rarely traces a direct path to genuine wrong-doing. Or are the Warners and Schifffs onto something bigger than discovering a few hundred thousand dollars worth of Russian propaganda ads sloshing around in a digital advertising market of $83 billion? If congressional investigations were magazine feature assignments, most of them would get the spike.

Provocateur and dandy Roger Stone put on his shiniest suit for his performance this week. Before going behind the House Intelligence Committee’s closed doors, he issued a 3,000-plus word prepared statement about his place in the Trump Tower scandal—I’m clean of any involvement would be the short version. Channeling Gore Vidal, Stone tweeted the day before the session, “Never pass up a chance to have sex, be on television or testify before a House Congressional Committee.”

As Richard Nixon’s most famous dirty trickster, Stone lives to mess with Democrats. He called Representative Schiff “Schiffhead,” for example. But how smart is it to wise-crack and insult the power in a scandal where he has potential legal exposure? Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti addressed this question in a column, concluding that Stone’s goal is to “distract from problematic activities he engaged in throughout the election.” For instance, Stone “resents” allegations, he does not deny them. He posits that the Nation magazine’s analysis of the email hacking—the Russians are innocent—is better than the intelligence community’s report that the Russians did it. Stone denies having colluded with the Russian state but is silent about having colluded with Russian individuals. He plays dumb about having any knowledge about the purported Russian hacks and airbrushes his relationship with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. Given a chance to play it straight in his statement, Stone almost always zigzags.

Stone isn’t the only Trump camper loaded to the gunnels with bad judgment. Over the summer, the Wall Street Journal reports, Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner took so many meetings that White House counsel Don McGahn fretted that investigators might interpret the sessions as efforts to coordinate their stories. McGahn got so steamed about the frequency of the meetings he threated to resign but didn’t after Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, who have resigned, leaned on him to reconsider. Elsewhere in the madhouse that is the White House, where characters enter and exit like a French bedroom farce, members of the Trump gang stand accused of practicing poor communications hygiene. Just after the inauguration, the NSA warned White House staffers not to use private email or private mobile phones because they could be hacked and turned into surveillance devices. Washington teems with snooping, hacking foreign powers, and private devices are easier to hack than NSA-hardened communications. So what did at least five top White House aides including Jared Kushner (who leads China, Syria, Middle East, and Afghanistan policy), do? They used private accounts, Politico reports. Richard Clarke, cybersecurity advisor to three presidents told Politico of Kushner, “It’s a pretty safe bet that his personal devices have been compromised by foreign intelligence services. And therefore there is some risk that meetings he attends are compromised too.”

Instead of lamenting the possible national security breaches, perhaps we should look on the brighter side of Kushner and his team getting hacked by Russian, Iranian, and Chinese spies. Warner and Schiff can get the spooks to clear up the Trump Tower mysteries by inviting them to testify before Congress.

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Allow me to install malware on your device. Just click on any attachment sent from Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts flirted with a .ru email account a couple of years ago in hopes of winning a Russian bride. My Twitter feed was an IRC account in its youth. My RSS feed can’t be compromised because it uses a Windows Phone and no hacker can be bothered.

Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer.

http://www.politico.com